Wednesday, September 2, 2015

New Word Wednesday: obsequious

Most words enter our personal vocabularies without much fanfare or attention. Five or ten years later, it's like the word has always been there, that we've always known what it was and how to use it.

But occasionally, a word enters our vocabulary in such a way that we never forget the event. That's how it was, for me, with obsequious.

I popped my obsequious cherry in 1987. That was the era of VHS, and I lived in a small town that had one stoplight and two video rental stores. One weekend, I rented Steve Martin Live 1978. That recording of Martin's live show not only introduced me to "Grandmother's Song" and the word obsequious, but cemented him as my all-time favorite comedian. And not only that, he became for years to come the standard by which I measured wit, intelligence, and masculinity. My own father disappeared from my sight, his place taken by the practically god-like talent of this one wild and crazy guy.

But I was writing about obsequious.

Granted, the line "be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant" didn't give me much context to figure out what obsequious meant. But I had a dictionary.

Someone who is obsequious is fawning, insincerely complimentary, ingratiating, or sycophantic. It comes from the Latin obsequi "to comply" from ob- "toward" (like in obligation) and sequi "to follow" (as in sequence).

(Seeing that obsequious came from obsequi, I expected to find that the word obsequy (a funereal rite) came from the same root. Not so. Obsequy comes from an alteration of the Latin exsequiae, from exsequi "to follow out or execute.")

Keep this word close to you over the next 15 months. I think you'll find you can get a lot of mileage from it as the presidential campaigns ramp up and, eventually, we vote someone into office.